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How much do doctors really make after paying for school?

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STAT News took a look at physician salaries when measured up against the cost of schooling.

We all know that med school debt is no joke. Many doctors come out of school with almost $200K in student loans to pay back. That’s a daunting figure, but projected salaries for doctors make that figure a little easier to swallow. Right? Surveys of how much doctors make are popular. STAT just published their version of the survey based on figures from Medscape and then takes a slightly different perspective.

Here’s what reporter Zach Nayer asked and explored:

Physicians-to-be, practicing physicians, and many of their patients take great interest in how much money doctors make. Physician compensation surveys can offer some eye-popping numbers — orthopedic surgeons make more than $450,000 a year! — but they are often highly misleading. A key shortcoming is that surveys neglect what’s called opportunity cost, which is the amount of money lost from choosing the next best alternative.

Given the extensive and expensive nature of training, medicine has a high opportunity cost: Future doctors must endure four years of medical school, three to six years of residency, and sometimes an extra year or two of fellowship before earning “physician salaries.” That’s valuable time that could’ve been used to climb the career ladder elsewhere, cashing checks instead of paying debt (the average medical student graduates with over $190,000 of debt).

That got me wondering: To what degree is medical school a wise investment? And how does opportunity cost affect the relative earnings of each specialty? Specialties like cardiology that require six years of post-graduate training significantly delay earnings compared to specialties with shorter residency programs.

Here’s what the math looks like:

Physician Salaries

To find out where your specialty landed in the calculations, check out the full article at STAT News.

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